In the recent years, social networking has transformed the way in which individuals interrelate and converse. Although the use of the Internet for connection has existed since 1980s, the use of social networking has improved drastically in the last decade (Johnson, Levine, Smith, New Media Consortium, & EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2009). The development of the online setting is acting like a complete replacement of group meetings, physical communication and body language. Such revolution has both helpful and harmful impacts on the society. For instance, if an individual is abroad and needs to communicate with relatives back at home, it is easy to communicate through the social media platforms. In addition, if a person has a webcam, it is possible to see the people that they talk to over the Internet. The social media has also improved the manner in which people communicate at the workplace. In instances where the workplace has numerous workers, or the employees are spread out, the social media assists in setting up and holding meetings, as well as, making other communication. Social networking also creates platforms where people can unite and learn from the diverse cultures available.
However, even with the numerous benefits of social networking, there are various negative impacts involved. Social networking is perceived as a way of eliminating face to face communication. Historically, communication and human relationships entail meeting physically and having one-on-one conversation. During the physical conversation, one can pass the message orally or through the use of signs and gestures. Research shows that social networking acts as a replacement of the face-to-face communication, deteriorating quality of relationships and reducing intimacy among the users (Kujath, 2011). Social networking has also been viewed as a factor for the increased antisocial effects on people. It is argued that people are able to socialize online than they can do in real life (Spalding, 2012). Interacting through the social media may also be addictive; hence, the users remain glued to the screens of their computers or mobile phones. As a result, it limits their physical interactions with people around them (Kiesbye, 2011). Therefore, there is a possibility that the social networks have detrimental impacts on the users in relation to human relationships and communication. It proves the purpose of studying the impact of social networking on human relationships and communication. The effect will be analyzed through the review of literature relating to the topic.
Benefits of Social Networking on Human Relationships and Communication
Individual Identity and Self-Expression
Social networking is becoming increasingly vital for the expression of identity. It supports critical sociality, especially one that is peer-based (Boyd, 2007). Social networking is flexible and has a design that promotes individual customization. As a result, many of the users experiment, in addition to, finding legitimacy for their cultural, political, ethnic, or sexual identity (Hillier & Harrison, 2007). Social networking has also been seen as a way of reinforcing parts of personal identities, including cultural background and ethnicity (Blanchard et al., 2008). It is especially effective among the young individuals with personal problems, or people who have newly moved into a new country (Stephens-Reicher et al., 2011). It is not possible to have constructive human relationships or communicate with others before one works out their status and identity. Social networking assists people in creating their identity and also making sense of cultural cues, as well as, being able to negotiate public life (Boyd, 2007). These socialization processes are vital for the psychosocial development, especially, among the young people. It is so because these young individuals are in a period of pulling up roots from their families, consolidating their identities, developing new relationships, and seeking independence (Berk, 2007). Therefore, social networking benefits communication as well as human relationships.
Strengthening Existing Interpersonal Relationships
The increased use of social networking by people is important for the reinforcement of relations, particularly as the offline and virtual platforms unite (Besley, 2008). Bukowski, Newcomb & Hartup (1996) stated that the existence of positive interpersonal relationships is a critical predictor of wellbeing, and can cushion people from most stressors. It is especially so, among the young people as they transit from childhood to adulthood (Craig, 2000). According to Gross (2004), the use of Internet amongst the young people has been found to reinforce their social relationships. In many cases, such people, as well as, most of the working populations lack safe, accessible and welcoming gathering places, free time for such meetings and transport is also a hassle (Boyd, 2007). As a result, social networking provides these individuals with 24/7 access to their friends and social community online. Regardless of their location and time, they can use their computers or mobile phones to interact with other people and share their views (Boyd, 2007). Ellison, Steinfield & Lampe (2007) observed that when transitioning from high school to college or university, students are able to create new relationships and maintain contact with their high school friends through social media. The same was observed among people who relocate to new areas. Instant messaging, which is available through social networking, often offers one-on-one communication among individuals, and is used to maintain existing networks of friendships (Grinter & Palen, 2004).
Developing New Interpersonal Relationships
Research has shown that social networking creates new relationships, although they are mostly "weak" (Donath & Boyd, 2004). However, for individuals who are marginalized, extremely busy or socially isolated, social networking provides only an opportunity for them to socialize (Donath & Boyd, 2004). A study conducted by Third (2009) identified that among the people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, social networking provided opportunities to develop friendships, and most respondents described these relationships as "true friendships" on which they highly depend. The capability for such people to associate with other individuals who have related views, experiences, needs, and values can assist them in identifying potential supportive connections within their local community (Munt, Basset & O'Riordan, 2002). People who have poor socialization skills can use social networking to find friends as it does not require physical meetings. In addition, these relationships may develop and form the offline friendships (Valkenburg, Peter & Schouten, 2006).
Communal Identity and Sense of Belonging
Social networking has also proved to be important in the creation of online communities with which individuals can relate. Persons with different needs and from various backgrounds can meet through social networks and learn from one another. Consequently, it creates a sense of belonging to a broader community (Hillier & Harrison, 2007). Therefore, it is evident that social networking is helpful to human relationships as individuals who may be vulnerable to isolation, for instance, those with disabilities and chronic illnesses, are able to identify themselves with an online community long after their stimulus is gone (Richardson, Third & MacColl, 2007). Social networking also enables the sharing of content, such as videos, pictures and written content, which acts as the representations of individual or community experiences, and invites others to relate and engage (Hiller & Harrison, 2007). Such phenomenon is described as "ambient co-presence" by Ito, Okabe & Matsuda (2005). Such connection and sharing do not need real-time or text-based communication, and enables these individuals to mitigate the sense of social isolation, hence benefiting human relationships and communication (Blanchard et al., 2008).
Negative Impacts of Social Networking on Human Relationships and Communication
Research has shown that social networking has several benefits in the interaction and communication of human beings. However, it is also evident that excessive use of the social networks may be detrimental (Wolak, Mitchell & Finkelhor, 2003).
Negative Effects of Internet Surfing and Instant Messaging
It entails users visiting random or targeted websites on the Internet for non-communicative purposes, and it may be addictive (Giffords, 2009). Social networking sites are commonly targeted by such individuals who seek gratification by going online. They acquire knowledge, view photos and videos, among other things. However, the satisfaction is limited. Consequently, they must keep visiting these sites (Selfout et al., 2009). Excessive interaction through the social networks may result in social anxiety and depression (Giffords, 2009). Therefore, the people who are excessively obsessed with social networking are at risk for a decline in their physical interactions and communication with other people. In addition, the excessive use of social networks inhibits the exploration of a person's actual environment and affects the development of friendships (Selfout et al., 2009). Instant messaging (IM) entails sending real-time computer messages, and research has found that about 75% of teenagers use IM for frequent communication (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Although it avails opportunities for individuals to practice and develop social skills, studies have predicted depression among teenagers who use it over a period of six months (Antheunis, Valkenburg & Peter, 2007).
Decreased Social Involvement
Although the online community may be taken as a society, most people who engage in social networking decrease communication and interactions with the people around them, for instance, family (Marsh et al., 2010). Burleson (2003) found out that most of the individuals, who use social networks often, do not have much of physical, social interaction. Such people do not participate in social events, and even when they do, they remain glued to the screens of their mobile phones. In addition, social networks are the major avenue used by cyber bullies. Traditionally, bullying would take place through face-to-face confrontations. However, it has changed as people get bullied through posting comments or videos on social networks (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Cyber abuse has detrimental impacts on the victims and may cause depression, embarrassment, remorse and withdrawal from the society (Mishna et al., 2009). Therefore, social networking may hamper human relationships and communication.
The existing literature shows that there are both positive and negative impacts of social networking on human relationships and communication. However, a gap exists in the literature and research. Since social networking depends on technology, and takes place over particular gadgets without face-to-face interaction, it might be difficult to make assessments of the interactive behavior and indicators to aid communication. It adds to the possibility that such relationships may become unpredictable and volatile. It would be beneficial to assess how social networking affects conflict resolution, as it is part of human relationships and communication. In addition, the available literature is not exhaustive on the impact of social networking as massive changes have taken place in this dynamic technological media. Most of the adults who are employed have grown in the social network era. As a result, the impact of social networks on such individuals may vary from that of the individuals who started using the social networks as grownups. For that cause, it is essential to conduct additional research to fill these gaps.